Russel D McLean
Check out Russel's new website (and blog) at www.russeldmcleanbooks.com
In The Big
Sleep, there’s a great moment when Marlowe is called out to the murder
of the Sternwood family Chauffeur. It’s a great scene and one that
serves to move the story forward, but rumour has it that when Howard Hawks was filming the movie, he called Chandler and asked,
Who killed the Chauffeur?
And it’s a fair question. No one really knows. And the rumour is that
Chandler himself responded quite blithely that he didn’t either, making
it just another instance of his maxim that when the plot slows down you
have a man walk through the door with a gun*
It’s a massive plot hole, or at least certain readers may consider
it as such. But you know, I like it. I like it a lot because it makes me
think of life.
In life nobody knows everything.
And nobody gets to know everything.
I like to leave a few loose ends in my novels. Of course, given that
I’m writing a sequence in the McNee books, one or two of those get
picked up later. A few questions from The Lost Sister will be answered
in Father Confessor (but yet a few more might be raised), but sometimes
there are things that you don’t need to know. It doesn’t matter if you
don’t know them. And its more fun if you can argue or conjecture about
what really happened.
Moving up to the modern age (ish), one of my favourite ever episodes
of the Sopranos (me and ten million others) was the one where Paulie
and Christopher take a Russian out to the woods to kill him. He escapes,
they think they shoot him in the head, but then they can’t find the
body. They get lost in the woods. They go through real bad times. But
they don’t find the Russian. They don’t know if he’s dead or alive. But
the point of the story is not the Russian, but how they cope with being
lost in the cold and alone with each other. Oh, and by the way, if you
have never watched the Sopranos here is your spoiler alert.
Lots of people spent the rest of the series conjecturing whether the
Russian was really dead, and what might happen if he returned. But he
never did. And nothing ever came of the fact they killed this guy.
Because it didn’t matter. And because, well, why would anything have
come of that? It’s a fine dramatic line between thematic webs and daft
coincidence. And the fact that we never really did know about the
Russian was brilliant. Because it felt real. Because sometimes in life,
you do things, or you see things, and they don’t come back to haunt you
in some ironic way or have any real impact on anything again even if, in
a made-up, all-the-dots-connect-world they surely should have.
Now I’m not saying I do anything as well as either of these
examples, or that I use such extremes, but I do believe that sometimes
you don’t have to know everything for a story to work. In fact I’d
rather not be told everything and be able to imagine a world that
continues beyond the confines of what I’ve seen of it.
And, really, I don’t care who killed the Chauffeur, but I do care
that it got Marlowe to the right place at the right time to answer the
bigger questions. And that while we never found out who did it, it
didn’t feel forced or unnatural. In fact, it felt real.